Star setter K.J. Kapil Dev quietly goes about his job setting it up for his Railway mates during the practice session ahead of the Velammal Silver Jubilee 59th Senior National volleyball championship here on Saturday. But, his team has undergone a revolution of sorts.
So much has changed in the composition of the Railways men's team since it lost in the quarterfinals to Kerala in the last edition of the Nationals in Gwalior. Most of the top teams have made significant changes with an eye on the big prize. “There has been lot of changes after the shock loss to Kerala. From last year, six players have come into the team — Mohan, Ashok, Sudarshan Verma, Baiju, Sandeep and Karan. Our basic objective is to enter the semifinals,” said Kapil.
Uttarakhand, finalist last year, has included Mandeep Singh, Gurchan Singh and Binod Negi this time while Tamil Nadu, the defending champion, has taken attacker Karthik, blocker Pradeep and setter Balwinder Singh and Universal John Christopher. “Ours is a nice blend of youth and experience,” said B.L. Yadav, chief coach of Uttarakhand.
In a way, change has been the buzzword in the Nationals beginning on Sunday. All the top eight teams in the men's sections in Elite Group A and B are looking forward to win the championship though they don't say as much. “After the debacle of the Indian team in the Guangzhou Asian Games, I don't want to promise anything. But the Tamil Nadu team is the best we've got. Our strength is attack and service,” said G.E. Sridharan, Tamil Nadu's chief coach just before the training session. “It's anybody's game. All the teams have trained hard. We'll see,” said Yadav.
As far as women's category is concerned, there is no point in looking beyond Railways. Almost the entire Indian women's team comprises players from Railways. Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Chandigarh, Jharkhand and Karnataka could probably fight it out for the second place. In the inaugural match on Sunday, Tamil Nadu women will take on Chandigarh.
It's been six years since a Nationals was held in Chennai. Then, it was Haryana and Railways which won the men's and women's titles.
The league matches will be held in three venues — Velammal Engineering College, Nehru Indoor Stadium and Nehru Stadium. The knockout stage (quarterfinals) will take place at the Nehru Indoor Stadium from December 17.
Tamil Nadu and Railways men will open their campaign against Punjab and Haryana respectively on Monday.
Keywords: National volleyball championship